GM Expands Plans for Hydrogen Fuel Cells

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In addition to cars, GM wants to make cell-powered planes and boats.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been a pet project for alternate energy researchers for decades. Fuel cells create electricity from a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, a completely clean-burning, zero emission fuel source, at least in theory. Unfortunately, fuel cell research hasn’t quite progressed to the point of genuine viability just yet, but nevertheless, General Motors has invested in its development for the long haul.

Recently, GM announced that they would be funneling an additional $35 million into their fuel cell research and development teams in the hopes of creating a viable cell-powered electric vehicle by 2025. GM has confidence in the potential of fuel cells as a power source for commercial and military land vehicles. Today, though, they also clarified their interest in expanding their use of this technology to other major forms of transportation, including boats, planes, railways, and more.

“Batteries have a role to fill, but to fully electrify and deal with the breadth of the different applications that we’re talking about, you also have to have hydrogen fuel cells,” GM’s fuel cell lead Charlie Freese told CNBC. “They complement each other extremely well.”

“Every market is going to be a little bit different, but what is clear is the world’s moving toward electrification,” he said. “The fuel cell technology has moved down the cost curve dramatically, and it continues to do that.”

GM has been setting up agreements and partnerships with various fuel cell-interested companies such as Nikola and Navistar, in addition to future contracts with the US military for cell-powered trucks and submersibles.

“We use kind of a land, sea and air approach,” Freese said. “It’s energy storage density for long missions, quick refueling and quiet stealth, low thermal initiatives. Those are things that are very important in those applications. And those carry over to some of the other [industries].”

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